Safety grows up a Dallas fan, and despite missing the last four games with a biceps injury, he impressed teams during the winter
A Dallas Cowboys fan as a child. Now a Cowboy.
Former Eastern Washington University safety Matt Johnson was selected as the last pick in the fourth round of the National Football League draft by the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday (April 28). He was the 135th pick overall.
Johnson, whose first NFL jersey as a child was the No. 22 of Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith, will depart for Dallas next Thursday for a mini-camp.
“It’s awesome,” he said of being picked in the fourth round. “My dad grew up as a Cowboys fan, so I did too and we watched a lot of their games. I even had an Emmitt Smith jersey – it was the first one received.”
As the 135th choice overall, Johnson is only the third player in school history to be drafted in the fourth round or higher. Michael Roos was taken in the second round by the Tennessee Titans in 2005 and Taiwan Jones was picked by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round in 2011. Both currently play for those teams.
Johnson, who finished his Eastern career with 341 tackles to rank fifth in school history and eighth all-time in the Big Sky, missed Eastern’s last four games of his senior season with a biceps injury. But because he played in 45 career games – and had impressive workouts and test results in the winter – he wasn’t particularly surprised by being picked in the fourth round. Most experts had him taken late in the draft or as a free agent signing.
“I guess you could say it was surprising by what people were predicting,” he said. “I knew the Cowboys were interested in me based on the workout I had for them in Dallas. But I had confidence in myself and my testing numbers from our pro day were good.
“I’m sure the injury and being from a FCS (NCAA Football Championship Subdivision) school probably is why people had me picked later or not drafted at all,” he added. “But I knew the fourth round was possible. When I met the coaches, they were able to see what kind of person I am and how smart of a football player I am.”
Playing with a painful biceps tendon injury since the second game of the 2011 season, Johnson underwent surgery Oct. 27 as his illustrious 45-game career came to a premature ending.
“What he’s been able to accomplish here has been amazing, both individually and what he has helped us accomplish as a team,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “He can certainly hold his head up high – he’s a great ambassador for our program.”
On Sept. 27, Baldwin announced the season-ending knee injury of Matt’s twin brother, Zach Johnson, an Eastern linebacker who graduated with his brother in 2007 from Tumwater (Wash.) High School. Before the season began, the Johnson twins were selected as Eastern’s two defensive co-captains for the 2011 season, and were preseason All-Americans.
Matt Johnson also finished second on the school’s all-time lists for interceptions (17, ranking seventh all-time in the BSC) and interception return yards (210). After starting every game in his Eastern career – with a collective record of 30-15 -- he exited tied as the all-time leader in career forced fumbles with six.
At the time of his injury Johnson was the team’s second-leading tackler with 52, including a team-high eight tackles for loss. He had 1 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a quarterback hurry.
He finished his career just one interception away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. Johnson is currently tied with former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93), who both have 17 each. Johnson was also only nine interception return yards from the record of 219 held by Schulz, and his six career forced fumbles are tied for the school record along with J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97).
Johnson had 341 tackles in his career to move into fifth all-time at Eastern – just five from moving into fourth (Derek Strey had 346 from 1994-97) and only six from third (Jason Marsh had 347 from 1991-93). Johnson had five interceptions in 2010 to help Eastern lead the FCS with 26.
Eastern Washington University’s NFL Draft Choices
Michael Roos – Off. Tackle – Letter Winner
at EWU 2001-02-03-04
Drafted in the 2nd round (41st overall) by the Tennessee Titans in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Taiwan Jones – Running Back – 2008-09-10
Drafted in the 4th round (125th overall) by the Oakland Raiders in the 2011 NFL Draft
Matt Johnson – Safety – 2008-09-10-11
Drafted in the 4th round (135th overall) by Dallas in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Tom Ackerman – Offensive Guard –
Drafted in the 5th round (145th overall) by New Orleans in the 1996 NFL Draft.
Trent Pollard – Offensive Tackle –
Drafted in the 5th round (132nd pick overall) by Cincinnati in 1994.
Bob Picard – Wide Receiver –
Drafted in 6th round (132nd pick overall) by Philadelphia in 1973.
Jeff Mickel – Off. Tackle –
Drafted in the 6th round (163rd pick overall) by Minnesota in 1989.
Ed Simmons – Offensive Tackle –
Drafted in the 6th round (164th pick overall) by Washington in 1987.
Lamont Brightful – Wide Receiver/Returner
Drafted in the 6th round (195th overall) by Baltimore in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Scott Garske – Tight End –
Drafted in the 7th round (179th pick overall) by Pittsburgh in 1974.
Kurt Schulz – Defensive Back –
Drafted in the 7th round (195th pick overall) by Buffalo in the 1992 NFL Draft.
Dave Svendsen – Wide Receiver –
Drafted in 11th round (281st pick overall) by Los Angeles in 1969.
Craig Richardson – Wide Receiver –
Drafted in the 11th round (298th pick overall) by Kansas City in 1987.
Dick Nearents – Tackle –
Drafted in the 18th round (205th pick overall) by Green Bay in 1959.
Matt Johnson Bio
Safety, 6-2, 220, Tumwater, Wash.
Head Coach Beau Baldwin on Johnson: “What he’s been able to accomplish here has been amazing, both individually and what he has helped us accomplish as a team. He can certainly hold his head up high – he’s a great ambassador for our program.”
Career: Playing with a painful biceps tendon injury since the second game of the season, Johnson underwent surgery Oct. 27, 2011, as his illustrious 45-game career came to a premature ending. Earlier in the season, Baldwin announced the season-ending knee injury of Matt’s twin brother, Zach Johnson, an Eastern linebacker who graduated with his brother in 2007 from Tumwater (Wash.) High School. Before the season began, the Johnson twins were selected as Eastern’s two defensive co-captains for the 2011 season, and were preseason All-Americans. Matt Johnson ended his career as the fifth-leading tackler in school history with 341 (eighth in Big Sky history), and also finished second on the school’s all-time lists for interceptions (17, ranking seventh all-time in the BSC) and interception return yards (210). After starting every game Eastern has played the last four seasons – with a collective record of 30-15 -- he exited tied as the all-time leader in career forced fumbles with six. He finished his career just one interception away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. Johnson is currently tied with former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93), who both have 17 each. Johnson was also only nine interception return yards from the record of 219 held by Schulz, and his six career forced fumbles are tied for the school record along with J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97). Johnson’s 341 tackles were just five from moving into fourth (Derek Strey had 346 from 1994-97) and only six from third (Jason Marsh had 347 from 1991-93). His brother Zach had been playing the 2011 season with a chronic tear in his left patellar tendon, but the pain became too much to tolerate and he had surgery on Sept. 29. It’s the same injury that required surgery to repair on June 30, 2009. He then missed the entire 2009 season after a blood clot developed in his leg following the surgery. Zach Johnson and EWU will appeal to the NCAA in the offseason to grant him a sixth year to complete his four years of eligibility. He will eventually have at least 19 games wiped out because of injuries -- 12 in 2009 and seven remaining regular season games in the 2011 season. Like his brother, Zach has started every game he has played as an Eagle – at total of 30 thus far. He has 260 career tackles to rank 10th in school history, and his average of 8.7 tackles per game is fourth-best in school history and slightly better than the 7.6 average of Matt.
2011: Despite missing four games after a season-ending shoulder injury, Johnson earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors for the season-straight season. Johnson suffered a subluxating biceps tendon injury in his left shoulder when EWU played at South Dakota on Sept. 10, 2011. Although surgery was the only way to repair the damage, Johnson elected to play with the pain for the next five games before his season came to a premature end. At the time of his injury Johnson was the team’s second-leading tackler with 52, including a team-high eight tackles for loss. He had 1 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a quarterback hurry. Prior to the season, he joined teammate Renard Williams on the Buck Buchanan Award “Watch List” as a candidate for the award given to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision by The Sports Network. Selected to the 28-member Athlon College Football Preview preseason All-America team, as well as earning first-team preseason All-America honors from Consensus Draft Services. He was also a second-team preseason All-American by Phil Steele’s FCS College Football Preview. The Sports Network selected him as one of the top 10 returning defensive backs in FCS in 2011, and he earned a similar honor from College Football Performance Awards as one of the top 36 returning defensive backs. Earned preseason All-Big Sky Conference honors as selected by the league’s media and sports information directors, and was also a first-team All-BSC selection by Phil Steele.
2010: Johnson was selected to the College Sporting News “Sweet 63” All-America Team, and was a second-team selection on the Phil Steele Publications All-America squad and a third-team pick on The Sports Network’s A-A team. He also earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors after starting all 15 Eastern games at safety. He helped the Eagle defense rank first nationally in interceptions (total of 26) and turnovers gained (47), and finish sixth nationally in red zone defense, as it allowed just 38 scores in 58 opponent trips inside the Eagle 20-yard line. Matt finished with 105 tackles to rank 19th in school history, and also had five interceptions, eight passes broken up, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Seven times during the season he had at least nine tackles, including his last three games of the season. He had nine stops and a pass broken up as EWU won the national title with a 20-19 come-from-behind victory over Delaware (1/7/11) in the NCAA Division I Championship Game in Frisco, Texas. He had nine tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in EWU’s semifinal victory in the FCS Playoffs over Villanova (12/17/10). He was assigned the task of “shadowing” multi-talented Villanova wide receiver Matt Szczur, who was held to 67 all-purpose yards a week after he had 204 yards with three touchdowns rushing, one passing and one receiving in Villanova’s 42-24 victory over top-seeded Appalachian State. In the quarterfinals of the playoffs, Matt had 10 tackles in Eastern’s 38-31 overtime victory over North Dakota State (12/11/10). Matt was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in the 2010 season and third time in his career following EWU’s 28-24 win over Sacramento State (10/23/10). He finished with nine tackles, an interception and had three passes broken up for the Eagles. Matt returned his first-quarter interception 42 yards to set-up EWU’s first score en route to a 21-0 lead. Later in the quarter, he broke-up a pass on third down that led to Sac State turning the ball over on downs. His third pass broken up came on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the day, a play that he could have secured for his 15th career interception but instead, safely batted the ball to the ground to end the game. In Eastern’s 35-24 victory over Weber State (10/2/10), Matt had six tackles and the 13th interception of his career that led to a first-quarter scoring drive for the Eagles. Matt also was huge against Montana (9/18/10) in the debut of EWU’s red Sprinturf surface at Roos Field, finishing with eight tackles and a pair of interceptions to earn Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors. His second interception versus Montana came with 7:31 left in the game after Montana had driven to Eastern’s 27-yard line while trailing by three. His performance against the Grizzlies earned him team defensive player of the week honors, an honor he also earned after the Villanova and Sacramento State wins. Named as a preseason second-team All-Big Sky selection by the Phil Steele College Football Preview Magazine. Did not participate in spring practices because of a shoulder injury.
2009: Earned honorable-mention All-Big Sky Conference honors. He finished with 102 tackles to rank as the 20th-most in school history, and his average of 8.2 per game was 74th in FCS. He also led the Big Sky and ranked 13th in FCS in interceptions (0.50 per game, six total). He intercepted four passes against Portland State (10/31/09), tying the Big Sky Conference record shared by two other players. As a result, he was selected as the Sports Network National Defensive Player of the Week, a College Sporting News National All-Star and was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week after leading Eastern to a commanding 33-4 halftime lead. The four picks were the most interceptions in a game by a Big Sky player in 20 years and the most by an Eagle in 23. But Johnson’s performance wasn’t a school record as he came one pick short of EWU’s school record of five set in 1986 by Mark Cordes against Boise State – a year before Eastern became a league member. Johnson helped Eastern’s defense hold PSU without a touchdown as Eastern had a 545-278 advantage in total offense. A year earlier in a 47-36 Portland State win, the Vikings passed for 623 yards and five touchdowns. Johnson also had a productive day one game earlier against Montana State (10/24/09), although EWU surrendered 592 yards of total offense in the 35-24 victory. He had 14 tackles (10 unassisted), including a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery he returned 14 yards. He had 15 tackles in Eastern’s playoff-clinching win over Northern Arizona (11/21/09). He was selected as the team’s defensive player of the week against both Portland State and Sacramento State (9/26/09) when he had four tackles and an interception he returned 33 yards for a touchdown. He wore EWU’s No. 10 jersey in 2009 in honor of his twin brother Zach Johnson, who was lost for the season because of a blood clot that developed before the start of preseason practices in August. Eastern also adopted Zach’s ritual of hitting the side of his helmet after big plays, a tradition the team has continued since then.
2008: Earned honorable-mention All-Big Sky Conference honors. Started all 11 games at strong safety. He and his twin brother Zach combined for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team, with Matt closing the year with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions, and Zach finishing with 96 and a team-high seven passes broken up. Matt had 83 total tackles to rank eighth in the Big Sky (7.6 per game), and had four interceptions to rank 47th in FCS and sixth in the league (0.36 per game). He had a team-high 10 tackles and an interception he returned 37 yards in his collegiate debut against Texas Tech (8/30/08) to earn team defensive player of the week honors. The interception of Graham Harrell set-up EWU’s first touchdown of the day in the 49-24 loss to the 12th-ranked Red Raiders. In the same game, Zach finished with eight tackles and three passes broken up. Matt had a season-high 12 tackles late in the year against Northern Colorado (11/8/08) in a game in which his brother had 15 tackles and an interception. During spring practices, he suffered a concussion in a collision with Aaron Boyce in EWU’s scrimmage on April 19, and had to miss the Red-White Spring Game the next week. But Boyce came out worse, suffering a shoulder injury on the play that required surgery to repair his partially torn labrum.
2007: Redshirted. Along with his brother Zach, he was selected as EWU’s Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. He was defensive scout team player of the week twice.
HS: Graduated from Tumwater HS in 2007. Selected to play in the 2A/1A/2B/1B All-State Game. Named by the Seattle Times as a “White Chip” selection as one of the top 100 prospects in the state of Washington. Earned second-team 2A All-Evergreen League honors at defensive back, despite missing five games due to injury. He still managed to rack up 53 tackles, a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery despite his limited playing time. He shared team captain and most inspirational awards with his brother Zach following their senior season. After a season-opening loss, Tumwater won 11-straight games to advance to the semifinals of the State 2A Playoffs and finish the season 11-2. Tumwater defeated Colville 28-25 in the quarterfinals, then lost to eventual champion Lynden 20-10 in the semifinals. Was listed among the “Seniors to Watch” on Ron Siegel’s 2006 preseason All-State team. As a junior, he earned All-Pac 9 League honors as a safety when he finished with 54 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. As a sophomore, he earned second-team all-league honors as a running back. He also played basketball and baseball. As a senior in baseball, he helped lead his team to a district title as he and his brother Zach both had two-run home runs in an 11-10 victory over Centralia in the championship game. Both were first-team All-Evergreen Conference selections as outfielders as Tumwater finished 16-6 after advancing to the first round of the State 2A Tournament.
Personal: Born 7/22/89 in Olympia, Wash. Matt is the twin of his EWU teammate Zach Johnson. Mathematics education major.
MATT JOHNSON Honors
2011 - All-Big Sky Conference Second Team
2011 Preseason - The Sports Network Buck Buchanan Award Watch List (top defensive player in FCS)
2011 Preseason - All-America First Team (The Sports Network)
2011 Preseason - All-America Second Team (College Sporting News)
2011 Preseason - All-America First Team (Athlon)
2011 Preseason - All-America First Team (College Sports Madness)
2011 Preseason - All-America Second Team (Lindy’s)
2011 Preseason - All-America Second Team (Phil Steele FCS Preview)
2011 Preseason - The Sports Network List of Top FCS Players by Position (top 10 defensive backs)
2011 Preseason - College Football Performance Awards FCS Watch List (top 30 defensive backs)
2011 Preseason - All-Big Sky Conference Team
2011 Preseason - All-Big Sky Conference First Team (Phil Steele FCS Preview)
2010 - All-America First Team (College Sporting News)
2010 - All-America Second Team (Phil Steele Publications)
2010 - All-America Third Team (The Sports Network)
2010 - All-Big Sky Conference First Team
2010 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week (vs. Sac State 10/23/10 - 1 int., 9 tackles, 3 passes broken up)
2010 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week (vs. UM 9/18/10 - 2 interceptions, eight tackles)
2009 - All-Big Sky Honorable Mention
2009 Sports Network National Defensive Player of the Week (vs. PSU 10/31/09 – 4 interceptions, 2 tackles)
2009 College Sporting News National All-Star (vs. PSU 10/31/09 – Big Sky Record 4 interceptions, 2 tackles)
2009 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week (vs. PSU 10/31/09 – Big Sky Record 4 interceptions, 2 tackles)
MATT JOHNSON Top Career Tackling Performances
16 - Weber State - 10/10/09
15 - Northern Arizona - 11/21/09
14 - Montana State - 10/24/09
14 - Montana - 10/17/09
12 - Northern Colorado - 11/8/09
11 - Northern Arizona - 10/8/11
10 - North Dakota St. - 12/11/10
10 - Stephen F. Austin - 11/28/09
10 - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
MATT JOHNSON Career Statistics
TACKLES G UA A Total TFL-Yds PD FF FR Blkd
2008................ 11 45 38 83 5-6 5 0 0 0
2009................ 12 54 47 101 6-12 10 2 1 0
2010................ 15 66 39 105 3-9 13 2 1 0
2011................ 7 27 25 52 8-25 2 2 0 0
TOTAL............... 45 192 149 341 22-52 30 6 2 0
SACKS G UA A Total Yds
2008................ 11 0 0 0.0 0
2009................ 12 1 0 1.0 5
2010................ 15 0 0 0.0 0
2011................ 7 1 1 1.5 15
TOTAL............... 45 2 1 2.5 20
INTERCEPTIONS G No Yds TD Lg Avg/R Avg/G
2008................ 11 4 79 0 42 19.8 7.2
2009................ 12 6 58 1 33 9.7 4.8
2010................ 15 5 73 0 42 14.6 4.9
2011................ 7 2 0 0 0 0.0 0.0
TOTAL............... 45 17 210 1 42 12.4 4.7